The Power of Useful Trade Show Swag

Custom T Shirt Vox MG Provo Utah

Figuring out your tradeshow swag can be a real challenge. The point of going to a tradeshow is to build brand awareness for your business and get on people’s radar. 

  • If you’re trying to recruit new hires, you want them to apply for a job. 
  • If you’re trying to find new clients, you want them to gain interest in what you’re selling. 
  • If you’re trying to attract investors, you want them to get excited about your business and start negotiating.

For any or all of that to happen, though, you can’t just make a positive first impression. Most people aren’t ready to make a final decision at a tradeshow. They’re exploring their options. If they like your business, they might decide to talk to you at the show…or they might reach out days or weeks later.

If they remember, that is.

There are dozens-to-thousands of other businesses vying for the attention of attendees. 

All of those businesses are fighting over the same people. It’s a lot of noise and clutter to cut through, so if you want to have any chance of winning people over, you need to leave them with a real and tangible reminder of who your business is, what it does, and why they want to reach out.

And that’s where your tradeshow swag comes in. If you do it right, tradeshow swag becomes a useful part of your prospects’ lives. It’s something they see all the time that reminds them of your business and encourages them to reach out—which is why businesses spend over $24 billion a year on promotional products.

But is that money well spent? Most of the time, the answer is no. It’s not because swag doesn’t work—clearly, it does, or businesses wouldn’t spend so much money on it. But, if you invest in the wrong type of swag, you can waste a ton of money and have very little to show for it.

The Problem With Most Swag

Tradeshow swag is one of the best ways to get the most out of your tradeshow experience—but only if it gets used. Unfortunately, most tradeshow swag is junk. It ends up in the garbage as soon as the show is over.

Putting aside the environmental implications, if your prospects view your tradeshow swag as “trinkets and trash”, your swag isn’t going to do you much good. 

Remember, the whole point of swag is visibility. Once swag ends up in the trash, it’s gone. No more reminders of your business. No more brand awareness. You’re left with nothing…except the bill for your freewill donation to the promotional products industry.

So how do you prevent this? Why do people snag swag and then simply trash it? And, most importantly, how do you keep this from happening to your tradeshow swag?

There’s no easy, perfect answer to these questions, but the simplest explanation is that most trade show swag is useless. It’s overly branded, irrelevant, and doesn’t fit into people’s lives. 

As a result, where does it go? The garbage.

However, this isn’t true for all swag. Some swag—even fairly cheap promotional products—manages to avoid the trash bin. Instead, it fulfills some sort of need, so people hang onto it for days, weeks, or even years.

Trade Shows Can Often be a Touristic Experience

Going to Las Vegas for the first time and experiencing The Strip, or going to Boston and walking the Freedom Trail. Going to a show does not mean 100% business. People tend to explore their immediate surroundings and will often venture beyond and see popular sightings and events in the area.  

Trade Show attendees also tend to take a gift back home for friends, relatives, and work colleagues. It’s a nice way to show they have been thinking of them while they have been away for business. 

The Souvenir T-Shirt

Many people like to take a souvenir home with them as a reminder of their travels. Something to show for where they have visited. An item they can use to look back and remember the experience they had in that specific location away from home. Many times, that item is a t-shirt that is worn around the house to lounge in, or BBQ on the weekends.

Toiletry Bags and Kits

Something to store basic grooming, oral care, and hygiene products, is one of the ultimate luxuries for travelers. A custom toiletry bag is guaranteed to use time and again since they can be very helpful with the following:

  • Organizing your grooming and hygiene gear
  • Separating liquids and toothpaste from the clothes it could ruin with one loose cap
  • Provides a more grown-up look than that gallon-sized plastic bag

A Memorable Custom Pen

Most branded pens and journals get tossed, but even those can be useful under the right circumstances. One of our clients has hung onto a pen he picked up at a tradeshow years ago. Why? It has an attached pullout chart he thinks is handy. The pen doesn’t even work anymore, but he still keeps it because the chart is useful.

Tips for Creating Valuable Items

The point is, if you want to get value out of your swag, you need to create swag that has inherent value to your prospects. With that in mind, here are a few things to consider as you decide what sort of swag to create for your upcoming trade shows:

  • Would I hang onto this swag?
  • Would I wear this shirt after the show?
  • How would I use this item if I picked it up from a tradeshow booth?
  • Will this item help me organize my items when I travel, or will it just take up excess space in my suitcase?

The more interesting you can make your promotional products, the more likely they are to get used. For example, during the Ebola outbreak a few years ago, a company at a medical device conference handed out 3D models of the Ebola virus and told attendees that they had just given them “Ebola”. It was a huge hit and tons of attendees took the swag home and used it as a running joke for weeks.

All of this just goes to show that swag doesn’t have to be expensive to be valuable. You just have to understand who your prospects are and what they value. Regardless of how much you spend, if you cater to that, people will be happy to hang on to your swag.


So, is swag still a worthwhile investment? Absolutely! But, if you invest in trash…that’s exactly where your swag will end up. After all, if no one sees or uses your swag after the tradeshow ends, what’s the point?

By the way, if you’d like some help coming up with or sourcing useful tradeshow swag for your business, reach out to us here! We’d love to help you put together the perfect swag for your next show.


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